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  • Fun and Fascinating Sociological Science Fiction

    Originally posted on Tales to Tide You Over This story is somewhere between a paladin’s quest and a net runner adventure. The handsome hero Brother Riccardo is out on a walkabout while Rene Laurent has a fount of knowledge and special talents despite no physical training. I use gaming terms deliberately. The book is peppered with insider jokes and gaming references, but they work within the narrative. For those who recognize their greater context, they add a little extra without disrupting the tale. The same is true for fans of the universe, or so I assume. There are references made to earlier adventures starring the titular character of the first series in the Virasana Empire Universe. As promised, there are monsters, battles both physical and of wit, and a wonderful friendship developing between these two unlikely fellows. Rene lives for reading while Riccardo isn’t much for it. Riccardo seeks battles to charge headlong into when Rene considers himself ill-equipped for violence. He’s more likely to suffer the blows and let his psionic healing repair his wounds. More than opposites attract, they are from different worlds, and I don’t mean geography. Fate, or God as Riccardo would say, brings them together when the brother sees Rene under attack and rescues him. What starts out with a curious Rene acting as a native guide to the planet Floor ends up with shared adventures and a bond full of humorous and self-reflecting moments as well as deadly ones. Even better, both rub off on the other in interesting and positive ways. I appreciated how the two of them honestly care for the people they meet. This, and the need to help others, they have in common. Rene is a compelling narrator, but this caused one clash between my experience of the book and the narration. I can’t tell his age. Riccardo is described as early twenties, but Rene sounds both like a street-smart teen and a twenty something at times, and when he refers to Riccardo as young, he sounds much older. It’s not so much important for the story as a descriptor to help me visualize the character and in how they relate to each other. While the paladin label covers Riccardo nicely, Rene has more levels between studying for his history doctorate, instinct for mathematics, and his atypical psionic healing. The description of his healing is fascinating, especially since we’re learning new things about it alongside him. It also makes sense for him to be the series lead (this is the first of a new series in the universe), though I hope Riccardo will be part of the next books, too. The gaming references are not the only aspects to this book with a greater context. Through a complex universe filled with many planets and people, human or otherwise, the novel explores different forms of exploitation, the meaning of freedom, and several other philosophical aspects. Most of these aspects exist on Floor, Rene’s home planet and the setting for this book. Rene is a permanent student of history, the kind of person who never stops learning and contemplating things, but it’s not only his perspective used to highlight the contrasts in available resources and the value of life. Riccardo has seen many places in his time as a roaming priest, which allows him to contrast conditions in the various levels of Floor with what he’s encountered elsewhere. I enjoyed this aspect of the world building because it made educating me about the rules and cultures governing different places an integral part of the story, as well as using it to show character development. One of the humorous, but not, elements is Riccardo’s ever-growing list of reasons not to stay on Floor. Another strength is the diversity of the characters and places. There was one point where I became concerned at the appearance of bias in a planet’s description. Shortly afterwards, though, something else balances out the negative descriptor with a positive, and one grounded in often-ignored human history. This is what I mean by complex. The book’s universe is not a veneer on our world, but it expands from ours to make pointed statements about the nature of humans both in history and modern times. In case it isn’t clear, I enjoyed this novel and will most likely look up the first set. Though whether a different lead than Rene will connect as well, I don’t know. The relationship between Riccardo and Rene is part of that, with Rene’s cynicism playing off Riccardo’s determination just as his knowledge balances the brother’s ignorance. This gives the reader a bigger picture of the world and events within it. The setup is fascinating enough to support a series even without considering Rene’s position in the mysterious Circle of Thales, and there are a couple of places that may be teasers for future volumes. I look forward to what happens next. P.S. This Advanced Readers’ Copy was provided to me by the publisher as part of an Other Worlds, Inc. blog tour in return for an honest review.

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